Today sees the publication of Shadows at Stonewylde the fourth book in the Stonewylde Series by Kit Berry. For those who don’t know it, Stonewylde is an ancient estate deep in a forgotton corner of Dorset, England. It is a beautiful, idyllic place, where the inhabitants live in unison with the gentle rhythms of the land, at one with Mother Earth, marking out the turning of the seasons with time-honoured traditions. But beneath the surface, not all is well — or good…
To mark the occasion, here are some of the best names from the series (so far!):
Yul. Yul is the hero of the series. He was born at the Winter Solstice, hence his name — a variant of Yule. For centuries this was the usual name for Christmas and Christmastide and remained the more usual form in Scotland and Northern Counties until recent times. It comes from the Old English: ʓeōl, cognate with the Old Norse: jól – the Norse Pagan midwinter festival lasting twelve days. These days, it is now the most commonly used Pagan term for the Winter Solstice. Yule was used as a personal name in the Middle Ages — probably for those born at Christmastide — and a feminine form Yula is recorded.
Sylvie. The books’ heroine. The ethereal Sylvie is a slight-framed girl with striking silver-blond hair. She also has a mysterious affinity with the moon. Named because of her silver hair, Sylvie is the French form of Sylvia, the usual modern spelling of Latin Silvia, the feminine of Silvius, a name borne by a number of legendary kings of Alba Longa in Latium. It derives from Latin: silva ‘a wood’. Rhea Silvia is the mother of Romulus and Remus by the God Mars. Her name may indicate that she is in reality a woodland deity or nymph, although in the myth she is simply a mortal princess.
Solstice. The name of the original Magus — a special Stonewylde title used of Stonewylde’s lord and master. Solstice — invariably called Sol — was born at the Summer Solstice. The word comes from the Latin: solstitium, itself from sol ‘sun’ + stito ‘to stand still’. The Summer Solstice is popularly called Midsummer; in Pagan circles, it is often called Litha or Alban Hefin. Vestiges of Pagan celebration survive across Europe, such as the Latvian Jāņi – though whether this gets its name from St John — who took over the Summer Solstice — or the solar God Janis is not known for certain! Even in Victorian England, ancient rites still abounded; young women would creep into churchyards at night to sow hemp seed as a charm to reveal their future husbands!
Eclipse — usually called Clip — is Sol’s brother. He is a somewhat nomadic shaman and story-teller. He gained his name because he born at an eclipse. Eclipse is an Old French word from Latin eclipsis, itself from the Greek ekleipô ‘to fail’ — i.e. fail to appear. In the past, eclipses were viewed as portentous – especially solar ones.
Miranda. Sylvie’s flame-haired mother. Miranda derives from the Latin: mirandus ‘worthy of admiration’ from the verb miror ‘to admire’, and first appears in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Leveret. Yul’s younger sister. A leveret is a baby hare. It comes from levrette, an Old French diminutive form of levre ‘hare’. Leveret is also a surname — deriving from the same source — which is found as a given name in real life from as early as the 17th Century.
Maizie. Yul’s mother. A variant of Maisie, itself a Scottish pet-form of Margaret. The spelling with a ‘z’ hints of maize, in keeping with the preference at Stonewylde for names from Nature.
Rufus. An entirely new character for Shadows! Rufus is Miranda’s son by the original Magus. The name simply means ‘red’ and ‘ruddy’ in Latin. It was a very common cognomen (surname) in Roman times, especially for people with red hair, and there is more than one St Rufus. In times past, it was also used as a nickname — one of the most famous examples being William Rufus (c.1058-1100), a.k.a. King William II of England. Evidence of its use as a genuine given name dates from the 16th Century
Merewen — an artist, in charge of painting the stones at the circle in preparation for festivals. It is form of the Old English name Mærwynn, from mær ‘famous’ and wynn ‘joy’; other forms include Merewina, Merewin, and Meriwenna — the usual form employed for 10th Century saint of the name.
Gefrin. Yul’s younger brother. Gefrin is an important Anglo-Saxon site in Northumberland, the seat of the Kings of Bernicia. Gefrin itself is of Celtic origin, sharing the same source as Welsh gafr ‘goat’ and bryn ‘hill’.
Sweyn. And another brother! A variant of the English swain, little found outside of poetry any more, but it is an old English word for a young man, specifically a servant of a knight. It is exactly cognate with the Old Norse sveinn from which the popular Scandinavian name Sven derives. This has long been used as a name — the Vikings introduced it to Britain too, in the Middle Ages, and it is responsible for a number of English surnames, such as Swann, Swain and Swayne.